COVID-19 presented huge problems for churches all around the world.

These challenges led to difficult decisions, like stopping in-person services, downsizing the budget, laying off staff members, and more.

Pastors had to make difficult decisions.

We tried our best to help churches navigate these changes, offering live workshops to help pastors trim from their budget. We released communication guides and reopening email templates to help pastors make wise decisions in difficult times. Our coaches hopped on Zoom calls to help pastors through.

But mostly, we tried to just listen and encourage pastors who were trying to maintain hope through difficult circumstances.

Through it all, there were glimpses of hope.

Without the ability to meet face-to-face, churches scrambled to beef up their online presence, creating new ways for church members to engage with each other and new opportunities to serve the community.

Instead of inviting the community to come to the building, churches found new ways to go to the community. Churches connected with local partners, helping meet needs.

Embracing the opportunity, churches looked for new ways to reach people, serve people, pray with people, encourage people, and pastor people.

Businesses did this, too.

  • When COVID essentially shut down movie theaters, Wal-Mart announced socially distant drive-in theaters in their parking lots.
  • Orange Theory, Planet Fitness, and 24-Hour Fitness began live-streaming workout classes and offering on-demand sessions.
  • You probably know a restaurant that survived by shifting to curbside delivery, take-out, or home meal-prep kits.

This is more than making a pivot to survive in a new reality. This is an intentional decision to push forward no matter what. You see, new problems create new opportunities.

The onset of COVID was certainly a huge challenge for churches.

But it was also a gigantic opportunity.

We got the opportunity to reset, reimagine, and refocus on our mission. It wasn’t something we asked for, but perhaps it was something God could use for good.

This really is the heart of the growth mindset, something we talk about in our Church Fuel community all of the time.

The stuck mindset focuses on the challenges. It’s something that is happening TO you, something that is out of your control. Pastors with the stuck mindset focus on the limiting factors around them.

The growth mindset focuses on the opportunity. You recognize the challenges, but realize God wants to do something THROUGH you. It’s where you embrace the current reality and decide to be the best steward of the times. Pastors with a growth mindset view every challenge as an opportunity.

The growth mindset is how you navigate a way forward, no matter what is going on in the world, in your community, or in your church.

It’s a mental model mixed with a strong resolve reinforced by a divine calling.

The Opportunity to Engage People

As your church navigates ministry in a post-COVID world, engaging people and volunteers will be one of your biggest challenges.

That makes it one of your biggest opportunities.

You need people to fill roles that have been vacated. And you need new people to fill new roles to meet these new challenges.

“We just can’t get people to help,” a pastor told me after shifting services online and struggling to get people involved.

So how can we leverage the growth mindset to involve new people in new ways in this new reality?

Three Huge Principles

We’re going to dive into some specific suggestions, but first, let’s talk about the principles that can help you accomplish your mission in the next season of ministry.

#1 – New roles attract new people.

Maybe you’ve tried for months to fill some existing volunteer positions. For example, I bet there are some openings in kids ministry that seem to always be there. You always need people to serve in the children’s ministry, don’t you?

You announce the needs, print them in the bulletin, include them in the emails, and ask around. The vacancy wears on you because you know children’s ministry is important.

It might sound counterintuitive, but if people hear about the same need over and over, they might tune you out. “I’ve heard this before,” they think as they dig in their heels of resistance.

Since they have already made the mental decision that they aren’t a good fit for this role, there’s not enough vision you could throw at them to get them to change their mind.

But new roles, even if in familiar departments or programs, can break the pattern.

Some people want to be first. Some people want to break new ground. So, creating new positions is a way to break the mental pattern and get someone to lean in.

#2 – Specific roles attract specific people.

Not only do new roles get people to lean in, the more specific you can make it, the better.Again, this is a little counterintuitive.

You might think casting the broadest possible net is the way to go. But generic pleas for help are often ignored.

People think, “Surely there are a lot of other people who could do that…they don’t need me.”

But when you share a specific need (and the more specific, the better), someone might think, “Wow…it’s as if they were describing me. I’m perfectly qualified to do that unique thing.”

Instead of saying, “We’re looking for volunteers to help with the elementary ministry” say, “We’re looking for a dad with older kids to help mentor some 4th graders on Sunday mornings at 11am.” The specificity will attract people’s attention.

Share specific needs, not generic pleas for help.

#3 – Digital roles attract different people.

As you think through your volunteer needs in a post-COVID world, make sure you are promoting digital roles.

Almost all serving positions in churches require physical attendance. But as you now realize, ministry can and does happen online. That means you need people to engage digitally.

This opens you up to a world of new people who can serve from their computer around a different schedule.

Digital volunteer roles often attract younger people, which is a challenge we hear over and over again from church leaders.

New Roles for New Times

As you think about creating new, specific, and timely roles for your church in order to engage more people in the mission, here are some ideas to guide you.

This is not a comprehensive list but hopefully, it helps you think through what roles you could use in your context.

  • Cleaning Crew. As you know, some people are very passionate about cleanliness and would be more than happy to help create a safe and sanitized environment for worship.
  • Online Campus Director. With more and more ministry shifting online and with digital strategy becoming more and more important, now could be the time to put someone in charge of an online campus or digital strategy. We’re seeing churches embrace this as a paid position, but you can absolutely start with a volunteer.
  • Digital Hosts. These volunteers can show up in a livestream or online service and intentionally and purposefully interact with participants. We’ve seen churches invite people to be a part of a prayer team, respond to comments, and suggest next steps. This is a great way to get people involved in your digital ministry.
  • Digital Small Group Leader. Leading an online small group is similar to an in-person small group, but it often provides more flexibility for the host. It IS possible to build community online and digital small group leaders (often short-term) are a great place to start.
  • Sermon Splicer. What if someone took your sermon video and created three or four short clips to share on social media? Yes, there are paid services you can use to do this and that’s a great option. But there might be someone who could do this as a ministry to your church and community.
  • Communications Director. The need for a comprehensive communications plan and strategy has never been greater and you might consider making this a staff position. But it’s also something you could raise up a volunteer to do, making sure they have a team of people to lead.

You could find volunteers to help with social media, create a YouTube channel, create or edit digital communications, share helpful resources out in the community, run digital advertising, head up community service ministry opportunities, and so much more.

Take some time to think through things you’re already doing but create or call out fresh ways to serve. Think through the changes that have happened in your church that have created new opportunities. Make your own list and start communicating these new, specific, and digital volunteer needs.

As you create these new roles, God may even bring certain people to mind. Go ahead and reach out to them. Work with them to clarify the opportunity and begin to leverage their skills. Watch how engaging people on their terms, not just firing out a list of all the stuff the church needs done, causes them to light up.

Context is Key

I want to close this chapter with a challenge.

As you look to fill new roles with new people, make sure your work fits within your overall volunteer system. Make sure the effort you’re putting in will have lasting results.

If you just read this and quickly spin up some new roles with little thought to your big-picture strategy, you may not experience the results you’re looking for.  You’ll be responding to a right-now need rather than solving a long-term problem.

But if you filter all of this through your total volunteer system, the changes you make now and the new people you bring in will have a lasting effect on your ministry.

If the talk of a volunteer system or a volunteer strategy doesn’t make sense to you, here’s a quick overview of what we teach in The Volunteer Course at Church Fuel.

Making sure your church has happy and healthy volunteers depends on getting three things right.

#1 – Recruit

You need to determine how, when, and why you’re recruiting volunteers. In the course, we suggest two primary ways: top-down or bottom-up. Both will work, but the challenge is to master one, not mix both.

#2 – Train

Don’t just bring new volunteers into the mix and then hope they figure out what they need to know to be successful. Instead, give them the tools and resources they need to be successful. This starts with a clear job description and continues with proper onboarding.

#3 – Pastor

This may be the secret sauce of the entire system. Your volunteers need to truly feel connected to the heart of the church and someone should be caring for their soul. This goes way beyond recruiting and training and looks a lot more like shepherding. It’s also how you prevent volunteer burnout.

You can learn much more about all three steps in this system in The Volunteer Course. It’s one of the premium courses we include for all members who join Church Fuel.